photo of a passover seder table

Moroccan Customs at a Berkeley Passover Seder

By on April 9, 2024


Passover has always been a particularly memorable holiday throughout my life. From peanut butter and jelly matzah sandwiches to elaborate retellings of the Passover story with handmade puppets, to the joyful Mimouna celebration at the end of the eight days, I’m grateful to have had so many Passovers filled with joy and surrounded by family. 

Maybe you didn’t grow up with a seder at all—or maybe you have your own family’s traditions that evoke different memories for you. Whether or not you have a connection to this spring holiday, I hope that learning about other traditions can help make your Passover more meaningful.

A bit of background: my father Mel—who wrote this guide—was born in Morocco. I grew up celebrating Passover with my Moroccan grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Though much of our seders followed a traditional route, we added many unique Sephardic traditions. 

After losing his father and my grandfather last year, my dad took it upon himself to document many of these traditions, so future generations and the larger community can learn about the traditions we add to our seder to honor our Moroccan heritage and ancestors. 

Below you will find a brief history of Moroccan Jews and a list of the many Moroccan Jewish Passover traditions that are a staple of our family seder.  I’d love for this guide to inspire you to add your own personal flair to your seder or consider where the traditions in your seder come from. Read on!

–Lena Sibony, GatherBay’s Community Coordinator

Some brief historical context

The Jews of Morocco are an ancient community that fled to North Africa during Roman times around 70 CE. The term Toshavim was applied to the resident Jews of Morocco, who were influenced by Islam and spoke the local languages, Arabic or Berber. When the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula arrived in Morocco, after persecutions and their expulsion in the 14th century, they brought their own traditions from Spain and were referred to as Megorashim, “the expelled.”

Eventually the two groups of Moroccan Jews merged and developed a hybrid of the many cultures they were from including Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Berber, Spanish and later French culture when it became a protectorate of France in 1912. Considering all that info, you now might not be surprised to hear that the Moroccan seder that my family practices is influenced and includes both spoken Judeo-Arabic and Ladino.

The Seder Plate

The representation of the ritual items on the Moroccan seder plate are very traditional: the Beitzah (egg symbolizing the cycle of life), Karpas (springtime vegetable), Zeroa (shankbone representing the temple sacrifice), Haroset (the mortar mixture) and Maror (horseradish) and Hatzeret (romaine lettuce). While Maror is always on the plate, Moroccans often add the additional bitter herb, Hatzeret, which is used in the Korech sandwich instead of the Horseradish. 

According to Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, there is a Sephardic pattern and arrangement in the Moroccan haggadah. In some representations you will find that written next to each ritual item on the plate is one of the 10 kabbalistic sefirot, the mystical dimensions describing the sacred attributes of God. The three matzahs correspond to keter (crown), chochmah (wisdom) and binah (understanding); the shank bone corresponds to hesed (kindness); the egg corresponds to gevurah (strength); the bitter herbs correspond to tiferet (beauty); the charoset corresponds to netzach (victory), the karpas corresponds to hod (splendor), the hazeret corresponds to yesod (foundation); and the seder plate itself represents malchut (sovereignty).

This arrangement transforms the seder plate from simply a ritual object to something with even more spiritual significance. Later in the seder, when we raise this plate above the heads of the participants, it is as if we are being blessed by the spiritual strength of the Shekhina (divine feminine presence).

Yahatz: Breaking the Middle Matzah

After several parts of the seder  (Kadesh, Urhatz and Karpas) comes Yahatz, the breaking of the middle matzah.The middle one of the three matzot in the Passover plate is broken, and as many are familiar with, one half is left on the plate, and the other is called “the Afikomen” or gift, and is hidden to be found and then eaten at the end of the meal.

In the traditional Haggadah text there is hardly a mention of Moses; however in the Moroccan seder a passage in Judeo Arabic is inserted with a reference to Moshe. According to Professor Joseph Chetrit, this could be linked to the need for Moroccan Jews to reinstate Moses as the center of their Judaism at the end of a period of forced conversion and persecution by the Almohads in the 12th century.

In our home, the tradition was to recite the following in Judeo-Arabic while breaking the Matzah. You can listen while reading along:

“Haq’da Qssam L’lah lb’har âla tnass l’treq ‘hin khrzeu zdoud’na min massar, âla yed sid’na oun’bina  moussa ben amram haq’da n’khrzeu min had l’galouth amen ken yehi ratson ve-nomar amen.”

This is how the Holy One split the sea into twelve separate paths, when our ancestors left Egypt, through the leadership of our prophet, Moses son of Amram, of blessed memory. Just like the Holy one redeemed them and saved them from harsh labors and brought them to freedom, so, too, may the Holy One redeem us and let us say, Amen.

The Custom of Raising the Seder Plate

One of the most distinguished customs of the Moroccan seder is the raising of the seder plate, affectionately called Bibhilu. This is normally done right at the beginning of the Maggid portion of the seder right before the recitation of “Ha Lachma Anya – This is the bread of affliction.” The seder plate is raised and every person at the table will have the plate encircled over their head while the following is chanted by everyone:

Translation: In haste we left Egypt, here is the bread of affliction, now we are free.

It is also customary that after the chantingyou get a gentle love tap of the seder plate on your head!

Maggid: Telling the Story

After Bibilhu is chanted for everyone at the seder table, we start telling the Passover story. In some Moroccan communities, an adult would take the cloth-wrapped afikoman and walk around with it on their back and identify themselves as an Israelite leaving Egypt.

Then, the leader asks everyone at the seder the following questions:

Where are you coming from?

Where are you going?

What are you carrying?

This allows everyone to engage and ask questions as well as prompt folks to reflect on their own personal experiences of leaving narrow places and expand on the historical perspective.

Recitation of the Ten Plagues

At the Moroccan seder, the ten plagues are marked in a specific way. For each plague one person pours wine into a bowl while another person pours water into the bowl. This custom has several meanings. 

The first is that the mixture of water and wine recreates what happened when the Nile River turned red with blood from the first plague. The second meaning is that we regret that our freedom came at the cost of the suffering of others and so we diminish the plague by pouring out equal parts of water with the wine.

There is also a custom that after the plagues are recited, an unmarried person carries the bowl outside and pours the contents on the ground by the side of the house. Not only would this ritual turn the plagues into blessings, but would also bring a wish for the unmarried person that in the coming year they would find their soulmate.

Specific Moroccan Sephardic Foods for Passover

Just a short mention about special foods during Passover—the Haroset in Morocco was made using local foods available in the spring such as dates and walnuts. After the paste is made, we shape it into small balls and roll it in rose petals. You can also take the charoset mixture and shape it into bricks to make a pyramid that represents the mortar used by the slaves to create the pyramids in Egypt. 

Candied oranges, grapefruit and lemons, typical Sephardi sweets are often the first foods prepared for Passover. Moroccan Jews do not eat rice during Pesach but they do eat other kitniyot including legumes, fresh beans and fresh peas. 

Songs and Blessings

Our family custom is to sing Bendigamos, a hymn sung in Ladino after the meal. The melody used is one of the best-known and loved Spanish and Portuguese melodies and used also for the Shirat Hayam (Song of the Sea) and in parts of the Hallel portion of the seder.

At the end of the seder, folks often also sing Echad Mi Yodea and Chad Gadya in Arabic or Ladino.

Lyrics and more below.

Thank you for reading!

Thank you so much for reading this guide. Passover holds so many memories for me and my family  and I hope that you can discover some new ones or be inspired to develop traditions of your own this year or in the future. Check out GatherBay’s Passover Guide for even more resources and Seder information for 2024. Chag Sameach!

Lyrics & Resources. 


Bendigamos al Altísimo,

Al Señor que nos crió,

Démosle agradecimiento

Por los bienes que nos dió.

Alabado sea su Santo Nombre,

Porque siempre nos apiadó.

Load al Señor que es bueno,

Que para siempre su merced.

Bendigamos al Altísimo,

Por su Ley primeramente,

Que liga a nuestra raza

Con el cielo continuamente,

Alabado sea su Santo Nombre,

Porque siempre nos apiadó.

Load al Senor que es bueno,

Que para siempre su merced.

Bendigamos al Altísimo,

Por (los matsot) segundamente,

Y también por los manjares

Que comimos juntamente.

Pues comimos y bebimos alegremente

Su merced nunca nos faltó.

Load al Señor que es bueno,

Que para siempre su merced.

Bendita sea la casa esta,

El hogar de su presencia,

Donde guardamos su fiesta,

Con alegría y permanencia.

Alabado sea su Santo Nombre,

Porque siempre nos apiadó.

Load al Señor que es bueno,

Que para siempre su merced.

הוֹדוּ לַיָי כִּי־טוֹב. כּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ 


Bendigamos Translation: 

Give thanks to the creator, who’s mercy endures forever.

Let us bless the One Most High and let us give thanks for the good things we received.

Praised be the creator, who always took pity on us and who’s mercy is everlasting. 

First for the law, which binds our prayer with heaven continually.

Second for the bread and then for all of the delicacies which we have eaten together.

For we ate and drank happily, the Lord’s mercy has never failed us.

Bless this house in the Lord’s presence where we have treasured our feast with joy.

Sources and References